Human Rights Commission President Faces Grilling
Tuesday, 24th February 2015 at 11:13 am
Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs has faced a grilling from the Government about the children in detention report during her appearance before a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra today.
Professor Triggs gave evidence at the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislative Committee hearing where she outlined how she received a request via a Department head from the Attorney General for her resignation.
Professor Triggs told the hearing, which included Senator Brandis, that she was deeply shocked by the request for her resignation in which she was told she would be “offered other work within the Government in an advisory capacity as an international lawyer”.
She said there was no doubt the request for her resignation was linked to her work on the children in detention report.
“I was deeply shocked by the request and rejected it immediately particularly as I have a five year statutory position designed to avoid any political involvement under the Act.”
"Throughout all of those 46 years (as a lawyer) I have never, ever had a suggestion that my work was not of an appropriate standard."
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has savaged the Commission's report, called the Forgotten Children, last week describing it as a "blatantly partisan" exercise and questioned the timing of the inquiry.
The report has called for all children in Nauru and mainland detention to be released after examining hundreds of cases of abuse. It also called for a Royal Commission to determine the impact of detention on children.
The report interviewed 1129 children over a 15-month period from January 2013 to March 2014. It showed there were 233 recorded assaults involving children and 33 incidents of reported sexual assault.
The Parliamentary appearance came as a chorus of some of Australia’s most respected intellectuals have written to Prime Minister Tony Abbott in support of Triggs.
Some of the 48 high-profile people to sign the open letter include former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, Julian Burnside QC, CEO of World Vision Tim Costello and businesswoman Janet Holmes à Court.
Dr. Rob Moodie, Professor of Public Health at University of Melbourne, who organised the letter of support said that more than a thousand people had added their support to the intention of the letter and support for Gillian Triggs.
The letter said that they “shared great concerns” in Abbott’s criticisms of the the Commission, Professor Triggs and its recent The Forgotten Children Report.
“Since World War II, Australia has placed great emphasis on human rights, and especially those of children. Successive leaders have, over many years, rightly deplored human rights violations in many countries overseas,” the open letter said.
“As a nation, we now find ourselves, however, in a situation where the Commission’s report documents evidence of violations occurring within Australia’s responsibility.
“The Forgotten Children makes highly disturbing reading for all Australians – and we have to learn from it: children must be released from detention as quickly as possible, and we must never repeat mandatory deprivation of liberty of children.”
The signatories urged the Prime Minister to be courageous and embrace the findings of the report while acting on its recommendations.
They said by condemning the report and the Human Rights Commission, Abbott risked damaging the wider Australian community.
“It requires considerable courage to read highly disturbing findings such as those in The Forgotten Children and to champion, not denigrate, the independence of the messenger,” they said.
“Prime Minister: we call upon you and other national leaders to show that courage, and to value and support the work of the Commission and its President—no matter how uncomfortable the findings may be.
“If we do not heed the messages of those whose job it is to monitor and protect our rights and freedoms, we risk a dangerous slide into a national culture of discrimination and inequity and, ultimately, of societal disruption and moral decline.”
The full letter and all of the signatories reads as follows:
Dear Prime Minister
We write to express our support for the Australian Human Rights Commission and our admiration for its work, led by its President, Professor Gillian Triggs. We share great concerns regarding your recent accusations of “partisan political” bias by the Commission in its report, The Forgotten Children, and we express our profound dismay at your highly personal attacks on Professor Triggs.
Prof. Triggs took office as President in July 2012 and it is hardly surprising that the report covers a period involving both the previous Labor Government and the Coalition. The report is sharply critical of the approach of both Governments and any suggestion that it attacks one and excuses the other is demonstrably false. The present Government sat on the report for three months before releasing it and must have been aware that its criticism was measured and balanced. But the subject matter could only be distressing, as a demonstration of harshness, opportunism and wilful blindness.
Since World War II, Australia has placed great emphasis on human rights, and especially those of children. Successive leaders have, over many years, rightly deplored human rights violations in many countries overseas. As a nation, we now find ourselves, however, in a situation where the Commission’s report documents evidence of violations occurring within Australia’s responsibility. The Report details abuse of children in detention and the failure of successive Labor and Coalition governments to protect them. Its case studies demonstrate that such detention can result in severe mental illness in these young children.
The Forgotten Children makes highly disturbing reading for all Australians – and we have to learn from it: children must be released from detention as quickly as possible, and we must never repeat mandatory deprivation of liberty of children.
Vibrant and fair democracies rely on independent institutions like the Human Rights Commission to inform them when things go wrong, and what needs to change to ensure protections under international law. The role of the Australian Human Rights Commission is to give voice to the otherwise voiceless and most vulnerable in our society, and to ensure our human rights obligations are met. This is Professor Triggs’ responsibility, and she has been scrupulous in meeting it.
It requires considerable courage to read highly disturbing findings such as those in The Forgotten Children and to champion, not denigrate, the independence of the messenger.
Prime Minister: we call upon you and other national leaders to show that courage, and to value and support the work of the Commission and its President—no matter how uncomfortable the findings may be.
If we do not heed the messages of those whose job it is to monitor and protect our rights and freedoms, we risk a dangerous slide into a national culture of discrimination and inequity and, ultimately, of societal disruption and moral decline.
Janet Holmes à Court AC, Company Director, Heytesbury Pty.Ltd.
Rt. Hon Malcolm Fraser AC CH. 22nd Prime Minister of Australia
Professor Sir Gustav Nossal AC CBE Professor Emeritus, the University of Melbourne
Professor Suzanne Cory AC, Honorary Distinguished Professorial Fellow
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Hon. Barry Jones, AC Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne
Julian Burnside AO QC
Jo Vallentine, former W.A. Senator
Rev Tim Costello AO, CEO World Vision Australia
Professor John Funder AC
Professor Hugh R Taylor AC, President, the International Council of Ophthalmology, University of Melbourne
Michael Crommelin AO, Zelman Cowen Professor of Law Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne
John Menadue AO
Hon. Ian Viner AO QC
Professor Terry Nolan AO Head, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
Associate Prof Elizabeth M. Dax, AM
Dr. Stephen FitzGerald AO
Dennis Argall, Former Ambassador to China
Ian Renard, AM
Ramesh Thakur, Professor of International Relations, Australian National University
Andrew Farran, Former diplomat and senior lecturer, Monash Law School.
Professor Elizabeth Waters, Jack Brockhoff Chair of Child Public Health, University of Melbourne
Dr. Ann Kent, Visiting Fellow, ANU College of Law
Dr. Alison Broinowski, Research Affiliate, ANU
Annette Brownlie, President Just Peace Qld Inc.
Dr. Mike Richards FAIM, FAICD
John Hughes, Honorary Fellow, Faculty VCA & MCM, University of Melbourne
Garry Woodard, Senior Fellow, SSPS, University of Melbourne
Richard Tanter, Nautilus Institute and the University of Melbourne
Willy Bach, Peace Scholar and Poet
NAJ Taylor, The University of Queensland and La Trobe University
Dr. Sue Wareham OAM, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia)
Tim Lindsey, Professor of Asian Law, the University of Melbourne
Tony Kevin, Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University, Canberra
Associate Professor Jake Lynch, Director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies
Margaret Simons, Associate Professor in Journalism, University of Melbourne
Dr. Alex Wodak AM, President, Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation
Matthew Albert, Barrister at Law
Ruth Russell, Women's International League for Peace & Freedom
Professor John Langmore, Assistant Director Research, Melbourne School of Government
Bon Nguyen, President for the Vietnamese community in Australia – Victoria Chapter
Professor Mark Considine, Dean of Arts, University of Melbourne
Dr. Mike McKinley, Visiting Fellow, ANU
Mack Williams, Chairman, UTS:Insearch
Dr. Judy Hemming, Lecturer, University of Canberra
Dr. Margaret Beavis, President Medical Association for Prevention of War
Tim McCormack, Professor of Law, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne
Mr Ian Macphee AO
Dr. Rob Moodie AM, Professor of Public Health, University of Melbourne